Monica Valentinelli Withdraws as GoH of Odyssey Con

Author Monica Valentinelli announced today she is withdrawing as Odyssey Con’s Literary/Game Designer GoH, just two weeks before the con takes place, due to a specific individual’s continued presence on the concom and her concern for her safety.

I was invited to be a guest of honor in 2016. At the time, a known harasser was working at the con. I, personally, had several uncomfortable interactions with this individual and I did not feel safe around him. At first, this individual was my guest liaison, and I had considered pulling out of the convention as a result. Thankfully, my point of contact was changed and I never had to speak with this individual again. I assumed that he was no longer working at the convention following this act.

Although the person was not named in her blog post, he was subsequently identified as Odyssey Con’s guest liaison Jim Frenkel, a former Tor editor banned from WisCon (permanently).

Yesterday, I found out that I was scheduled to be on programming with him and he was still part of the concom. I also learned that peers and friends were uncomfortable with his role at the show, and they had decided to avoid the convention altogether. His involvement with the con meant that I would have to interact with him, especially as a guest of honor, and I do not feel safe around him nor would I want to put any of my friends, peers, or fans in that situation either.

Yesterday, Valentinelli wrote to the concom.

To resolve this, I sent the concom an e-mail. I told them that I, personally, had several problematic experiences with him, and that if he was still working the convention that I would have to withdraw. The response I received was incredibly dismissive of not only me, but of past reports as well. The e-mail went on to say how this individual was a long-time close friend of the concom, and I should judge his behavior for myself.

I have judged his behavior for myself, and I do not feel safe being in the same room with him let alone the same hotel. This blatant disregard of my concerns also worries me that should any new harassment complaints arise, that they would not be dealt with appropriately. I am extremely disappointed that a member of the concom would be more valued that an invited guest, and though I recognize the invitation is an honor I cannot and do not find this resolution acceptable.

Program participant Patrick S. Tomlinson followed her out the door.

Tomlinson added, “If they change their mind, I’ve offered to attend. But not with him participating in any capacity”.

And Catherine Lundoff said:

On Twitter, dozens of writers have lined up to support Valentinelli’s decision.

Odyssey Con is an annual Madison, WI event founded in 2001. Frenkel, who also lives in Madison, has a number of friends among its organizers and works on the concom. The President of the convention’s executive board (OCSI) is Richard S. Russell. Russell, after having worked every WisCon since its founding, was ousted from the WisCon committee in 2014, in part for his continuing expression of his views in committee channels about WisCon’s People of Color Safe Space and the Jim Frenkel harassment complaint.

Odyssey Con’s program organizer, Greg Rihn, is another longtime Frenkel acquaintance. His answer to Valentinelli’s email was the first from someone on the concommittee and said in part —

I have known Jim personally for more than thirty years. Although there have been unfortunate events in the past, I do not now believe, nor have I ever, that Jim is dangerous to any one, in any way. I believe that the lamentably widely disseminated idea that he is, is exaggerated and grows from a lack of knowledge of the facts in his case. His reputation since the WisCon incident has been spotless.

I will, if you wish, take Jim off any panel that presently features both of you, which I hope you would find a reasonable compromise. Banning Jim entirely would be unfair to him, and, in refusing to attend if he is working the con at all, you are being unfair to yourself. Why let other people make your decisions for you? Come and see the man for yourself. You will see that he is a decent man, and not a monster.

Subsequently, Rihn regretted his answer and he has written on Facebook:

I take complete and personal responsibility for my stupid response to Monica’s e-mail. I believed the matter urgent and wrote with too much haste and too little thought. Hospitality is a sacred obligation. I would defend a guest against my brother, let alone a supposed friend (who would cease to be a friend the moment he offered harm to a guest).

Co-chair Janet Lewis posted the entire email correspondence between Valentinelli and the committee on the con’s Facebook page but those posts have since been deleted. Gone with them is OSCI President Richard S. Russell’s public response to Valentinelli:

There has been much discussion regarding Monica Valentinelli’s announcement that she has withdrawn from the Gaming Guest of Honor position at our convention. Much is being said in social media, so we would like to take a moment to make the following statement.

Yesterday, April 10th, Monica contacted our convention through various email addresses expressing her concern and problems with our convention with Jim Frenkel as a part of the event. Last night one of the members of our committee contacted her to try to address her concerns. Unfortunately the position and words were his own, but did appear to be an official statement from the convention. It wasn’t, and he sent a further communication to Ms. Valentinelli to help clarify that.

Up until yesterday we had no knowledge of any problems Ms. Valentinelli had with Mr. Frenkel at Odyssey Con – both had been at Odyssey Conn previously, and both had been on panels together during that time. So we were surprised to hear there had been a problem. Here are the facts as we know them to be:

1) No claims of harassment against Jim Frenkel have ever been made at Odyssey Con that current ConCom members are aware of. We have a firm anti-harassment policy and all charges are treated seriously.

2) We have never made a secret of the fact that Jim works at the con. The assumption that Ms. Valentinelli made to the contrary was an unfortunate failure of communication.

3) Jim Frenkel has volunteered to step down from any official capacity with Odyssey Con to help the organization involved to move forward with a successful event.

Before making any updates and changes on the website and social media, we have been working to verify everyone’s position before making the appropriate changes. These changes do take a little time. Please keep in mind these issues were brought to us less than 24 hours ago.

The official statement from the president of Odyssey Con Society, Inc.:

Odyssey Con has immense appreciation for Monica Valentinelli and her work. We admire, respect, and honor them both, and were fully prepared to do so publicly at our upcoming convention, before Ms. Valentinelli withdrew as one of our three guests of honor.

But Odyssey Con is now, always has been, and always will be, open and welcoming to all. We do not allow anyone, not even a guest of honor, to dictate that someone else must be excluded from it.

Odyssey Con is also a safe environment. We have policies in place ( http://odysseycon.org/policies.html ) strictly forbidding harassment and a designated ombudsperson to whom any such complaints may be directed. Anything beyond harassment, of course, is a police matter and would be promptly dealt with as such. No such allegations have been made with regard to anyone expected to attend this year’s convention, and therefore Odyssey Con has no basis for excluding anybody.

We sincerely regret that we will not be able to provide our members with the full experience we had advertised and will, of course, refund the membership fee of those who feel that they must now cancel their attendance.

Richard S. Russell, President, OCSI

Other people are weighing in outside of Twitter:

Jim C. Hines – “Odyssey Con, Frenkel, and Harassment”

As is the nature of these things, there’s a lot more that isn’t written about publicly. I’ve spoken with other people harassed by Frenkel who chose not to post about it online, or to file complaints. Given the way we tend to treat victims of harassment and assault — demanding details and proof, blaming them, excusing the harassment, telling them why they’re wrong or overreacting, and so on — I can’t and won’t blame anyone for making that choice.

Even so, knowledge of Frenkel’s history is widespread in the SF/F field. He lost his job with Tor Books shortly after the 2013 incident. He was banned for life from Wiscon. Hell, some of this stuff is on his freaking Wikipedia page.

In other words, there’s no way Odyssey Con was unaware of this history. But they still chose to allow Frenkel to serve as their Guest Liaison.

That’s their right. It’s their convention, and if they want to put a known repeat harasser on staff, they can do so. But that choice has consequences. Consequences like their Guest of Honor withdrawing from the convention. Or having other guests withdraw because the con prioritized a harasser over the safety of their guests.

Kelly McCullough – “On The Matter of Jim Frenkel”.

I don’t remember ever seeing Jim make unwelcome advances or any of the other reported behaviors that have given him his reputation as a serial harasser, but I don’t have to witness a behavior myself to condemn it. All I have to do is believe the accounts of the women who were affected, and I do. It’s that simple. So, though it gives me no pleasure to say this about a man who advanced my career and who I thought of as a friend, I will repeat myself.

Jim has no business being a guest liaison for any convention.

K. Tempest Bradford – OdysseyCon and Why Serial Harassers Are Safe In Our Community.

I’ve seen a bunch of people commenting on this wondering how it is that Jim Frenkel is in any way involved with any convention at this point in time given everything that’s happened. Well. This. This is why. It’s multiple people (see how many folks are listed on this concom who know Jim and are real sure he didn’t ever do anything wrong, despite those third hard reports from the Internet (who trusts that?? Pish) continuing to allow him to be in official roles because we wouldn’t want to lose all his knowledge and experience.

This is how fandom has worked for decades.

And the potential for today’s developments has existed for some time. Sigrid Ellis wrote an open letter to Odyssey Con a year ago criticizing the use of Frenkel and Russell on program.

[Thanks to Rose Embolism, ULTRAGOTHA, and Cat Rambo for the story.]

114 thoughts on “Monica Valentinelli Withdraws as GoH of Odyssey Con

  1. By the time this discussion is over you’ll be the only person you take seriously. And then where will we be?

    Exactly where we were before, except Aaron’s horse will be really, really high.

    Which might be nice, for the horse.

  2. There are cons dealing with these problems and handling them well, or handling them badly and learning from those mistakes and working to clean up their mess. Perhaps the place to start if for such cons to pool their experience and produce some recommended guidelines for the sf/f community at large, a P&P manual of harassment which conventions could publicly choose to sign on to and commit to, or publicly decline to sign on to and commit to?

    The P&P could cover some guidelines about handling harassment complaints, what recommendations can be explored between the extremes of “do nothing” and “lifetime ban” and when it’s appropriate to consider a range of possibilities between those extremes, how to announce results, and how to disseminate the relevant information to a committee’s successors, as well as WHETHER to disseminate the information to the sf/f community at large (and if so, how). And the P&P could be reviewed a couple of years later on the basis of what is and is not working for cons, revised, and reissued.

    Certainly the conflict-of-interest issue is one where a lot of committees seem to need some guidelines or advice. As the example sitting in front of us this week: Someone who describes himself as a friend of Jim Frenkel should NEVER be the concom member who fields and replies to a letter accusing Jim Frenkel of harassment. The response to a letter, accusation, or complaint about harassment (even one that the recipient thinks is fabricated bullshit) should NEVER rely on refutations along the lines of “but I know and like him” and exhortations like “you should get to know him.” Yet this kind of thing goes on often.

    So would national (or international) sf/f con written guidelines along the lines of “how to handle a complaint about one your volunteers, regular attendees, concom members, and/or personal friends?” help this wearily repetitious problem? I don’t know, but it does seem that trying something would be better than continuing NOT to try something….

  3. (Mind you, I say all this in the extremely safe capacity of someone not involved in cons and with no background in handling harassment. “Safe” in the sense that I’m urging “let’s you and him fight!” Or, rather, “Let you and him do all the work that I’m saying it would be a good idea to do….”)

  4. @Aaron: Unless the actual particulars of the case are available to evaluate, everything you say is just hazy memory, and that is never particularly reliable even under the best of circumstances. Then why do you believe claims of harassment without legal citations? There are memories, even those not of major trauma, that are quite reliable — and this character’s record (including finding he was holding a spear with the point a couple of inches from my gut) is something I’d been aware of for some time.
    tl;dr: FYVM.

  5. A convention’s harassment policy should designate who is authorized to speak to the public on behalf of the organization in regard to an incident, who is authorized to communicate with the person making the report and who is authorized to investigate.

    Odyssey Con had multiple people making statements, communicating with Monica and even sharing her emails without permission. This made a bad situation worse, particularly for her.

  6. Then why do you believe claims of harassment without legal citations?

    Gee, who has been advocating for a system where such cases are documented on the record?

  7. Aaron: You’re moving the discussion in a circle. Advance it, or let it come to a natural end.

  8. Aaron:

    Yes so

    Yes; using word-of-mouth does *not* require “reinventing the wheel” each time, which was the claim you have deleted, and the claim I disputed.

    Any system that relies upon word of mouth is inherently unreliable for transmitting accurate information.

    And we’ve seen that email is often unreliable for transmitting accurate information. Heck, the *written word* is unreliable. If we need something to be reliable to be useful, then good luck.

    If you are concerned about the risk of lawsuits from people who have been found to harass others at the convention, why aren’t you concerned about all of those other risks?

    I am. And several of those other risks are covered by the fact that the con is a *corporation* — but harassment suits, as we’ve seen with Skepticon, can easily be directed against people separate from same.

    And when you talk about hypotheticals — I am telling you, though you don’t need to accept it — that the idea of harassers threatening to sue in order to either change or affect harassment judgments is *not a hypothetical*. It has happened. And for reasons you might be able to understand, I can’t talk about it in detail.

    I just said the process should be above-board, not the collection of back-channel, word of mouth system that there is now.

    I don’t know what circles you move in; but in the ones I do, saying something is not above-board is tantamount to calling it corrupt and dishonest. If that’s not what you meant — if you meant *transparent* or *public* instead — then that’s fine.

    I repeat my previous statement, an will leave it at this: right now all you are going to do with your position and method is alienate anyone who might be an ally who doesn’t think *exactly* the way you do.

    For example, I certainly wouldn’t want to work with you at this point on making the problem better, since not agreeing with you is apparently tantamount to supporting harassers.

    Laura, rcade, I’ll happily work with you.

  9. A minor note, Laura:

    Someone who describes himself as a friend of Jim Frenkel should NEVER be the concom member who fields and replies to a letter accusing Jim Frenkel of harassment.

    Sometimes, especially with a tightly-knit concom, it can’t be helped, if the accused is also a concom member. I know some conventions have tried to look for outside opinions as rapidly as possible, but often the first response has to be quick, and can’t be outsourced.

    Under those circumstances, I imagine someone stuck fielding such an email would look to others on the concom and saying “I need to answer this — help me be not too defensive/sympathetic to the accused/etc., please?”

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  11. In the case of responding to harassment notifications, perhaps some sort of appropriately sympathetic form response laying out the process from there? Get something out there fast while the investigation gets under way, without it being reliant on the first person to see or hear the complaint being experienced and free of bias. (Not that Frenkel ought to need much in the way of investigating, but he’s not the only harasser in fandom, just a really prolific one.)

    Certainly convention runners could pool knowledge both on harassment policies, investigation procedures, etc, and to a certain extent I believe that already happens. However, I sincerely doubt that the concom was unaware in this case, unless amnesia is remarkably common in Wisconsin fen. Knowledge only helps if people are willing to act on it. I’m also on the fence about whether name-and-shame databases are a good idea (but I kind of like the idea of a shared panel for handling complaints). I agree with Laura Resnick that a culture shift and systemic changes are required along with knowledge sharing. Also, I’m envious of her delicious dinner and cocktails. 🙂

    I heard about the Skepticon lawsuit via one of the other named groups: the Freethought blog platform (I may be CoE, but I can agree with them on things unrelated to religion just fine – also some things related to religion – and they have some interesting folks). They were sued for starting an investigation into the accusations and mentioning it publicly, I believe, not even kicking him off the platform or anything. He sued them after voluntarily resigning his place without letting the investigation go ahead. I think. I’d have to check to confirm details to be sure.

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